‘Can you help him?’ Dennis asked.
‘I’m not sure,’ I said.
‘He’s a good guy. He’s just had a hard time finding meaningful work.’
‘Ok, I’ll keep an eye out for an opportunity. No guarantees though,’ I replied.
‘Thanks for trying.’ Click.
I’m a busy guy. Really busy. I’m an entrepreneur with global interests. Each day, meetings come and go in quick succession. Somedays, I barely remember who I spoke with. To do lists run miles long. I deal with people in different countries and different time zones.
I deal with lots of people and lots of requests.
I don’t mind helping out when I can, but I’ve also seen enough to know sometimes it doesn't work out as planned. That promising reference I gave for that person and then they don’t deliver. Credibility in business is currency. The more credible you are and the more people can bank on your word, the more doors open up for you. I don’t spend my currency lightly. A referral which doesn’t work out is a withdrawal on the credibility account. Too many withdrawals and I’ll be broke.
But, I’m also a glass half full kind of guy.
A few weeks later, I received a follow up text.
‘Hi, just checking in. Any word about my request? Thanks Dennis.’
What request? I think. It’s been several weeks and hundreds of requests later. I read the text again. I remember. I hadn’t really forgotten. It’s just that nothing’s come up yet.
Shortly thereafter, a friend of mine is in town. He needs an assistant to help out with a research project. It’s a short stint.
‘I know someone,’I say.
I call Dennis. ‘Something’s come up.’
I give him the details. ‘Thanks alot. He’ll really appreciate it.’
‘I hope it works out,’I replied. Click.
I don’t think too much of it. A few seconds is all it took in my busy day. I move on to other things.
A few months later, my phone rings. I’m at the airport. It’s an unknown number. Usually, I don’t answer.
‘Hello,’ I answered.
‘Hi, this is Martin. Dennis gave me your number.’
‘I just wanted to say thanks. I got the job and it’s been a really good couple of months. More than that, it came at a time when I had just about given up on life.’
‘I’m glad it worked out,’I replied, cradling my phone as I handed my boarding pass to the attendant.
‘Maybe one day we can meet up?’Martin asks.
‘Sure,’ I replied, eager to hang up as boarding began. ‘I’ve got to go. Bye!’
‘Bye and thanks again,’ replies Martin.
Years later and I have kids, lots more travel and my business expands to other countries. This involves the usual application and renewing of travel documents, a tedious process one which I never quite get used to. Every time it seems that the regulatory authorities change something. They need one more photo, one more signature, one more copy of another document. On and on it goes. Then, there’s the timeline. I always needed my travel documents yesterday, not the 5 to 7 days processing time that they provide.
On this particular occasion, I’m travelling with my family. We are returning to my current country of residence. The kids need travel documents. This was well known to me and I have been gathering all the paperwork that’s required. Application forms, supporting documents and photos with so many specifications, it's baffling. The online portal makes everything seem straightforward: click here to fill the form and click next to upload.
‘The file is too large to upload.’
‘The passwords do not match.’
‘This session has timed out.’
Every click leads me to anywhere but where I’m trying to go. The applications can not be submitted. We have to hand them in person. There’s just one problem. They aren’t accepting in person applications. If they do, they take several days to process. I don’t have several days. We leave in 2 days. In the meantime, my meeting carousel continues. Round and round non-stop.
The next day, we head to the passport application centre, a building which is hard to miss. There’s a queue that’s formed and it goes around the building. We are at the back of the line. As in many government offices, the practice of ‘hurry up and wait’ applies. Each stage requires urgent action and then you wait infinitely.
‘Have you applied online?’ a clerk asks.
‘No, I…’She doesn’t let me finish. ‘Join that line.’ The longest saddest looking line.
At this point, the kids start to show signs of falling apart. This always happens when you are least prepared to handle it. Government offices, airports while waiting for the second, third or fourth connection, a zoom call with that customer you’ve been trying to impress for years!
Two, three, four hours later. The line has barely moved. The kids at this point are on the ground. I scan my contacts list. I need help! I call a friend who calls a friend.
‘I know this guy,’ my friend says, ‘Here’s his number. He’s usually busy and may or may not answer.’
I dial. After several attempts, he picks up. ‘Hi. Dennis gave me your number,’I said hurriedly,
‘I need help with my kids’ applications. I have all the paperwork. We are outside the application office.’
‘Ok. Office 4A on the 7th floor,’ he says.
We rush to the office. I feel like a shepherd with wayward sheep. The kids don’t care anymore. They howl and fight ignoring my ‘I’m trying not to sound mad because we are in public’ voice.
Office 4A. We enter and are ushered into a small busy office. There are files everywhere and a few people waiting with their stack of paperwork. The man behind the desk is on the phone while attending to another applicant’s paperwork.
I’ve been in enough offices to know this is a senior government official. The tone of his voice, the items on his desk and the deference from the staff who fulfil his request.
We wait our turn as I get our paperwork in order.
He gestures to me.
“Hello,’ I said nervously. He nods politely.
‘I called a few minutes ago. Dennis gave me your number.’
He barely acknowledges this as he looks through our paperwork.
‘You have a problem. What you are asking me to do requires several days. Children's applications require greater scrutiny and more time,’ he says.
‘When do you leave?’ he asks.
‘Tomorrow night,’ I replied. He laughs.
His phone has been ringing non stop. ‘Leave all your paperwork and your travel documents too.’ Call me tomorrow at noon. I’ll see what I can do.’
I am relieved but reluctant to leave my travel documents as well. I don’t know him and he could fail to deliver. However, I have no choice. I hand them over and he waves us off. He has moved on to someone else.
The next day, I called him as soon as the office opened. He doesn’t answer. After several attempts, I stopped trying. I’m anxious and start to wonder if I made a mistake.
There are ten hours before our flight. I could reschedule, but I don't want to. The ticket fees are ridiculous for a last minute cancellation in peak season.
Noon. I keep staring at my phone, willing for it to ring. Nothing.
I log into my frequent flyer account. I have no choice. I have to reschedule.
My phone rings. ‘Hello, come to the office. Office 4A.’ Click.
I go to the passport office as fast as I can. Office 4A. I walk in. The office is quiet. It’s lunchtime.
‘Hello,’ I said nervously.
‘Have a seat.’ He points me to a seat beside his desk.
‘Your application posed quite a challenge. It required me to ask for many favors.’
He continues, ‘I didn’t say anything yesterday because I wanted to make sure everything was in order first.’
‘You mentioned Dennis. Years ago, he asked you for a favor for a friend. I’m that Martin.’
‘That job was a lifeline and is the reason I’m in this position today. Thank you.’
Before I can wrap my head around what he’s said, the door opens and new applicants walk in. His phone starts to ring again. The conversation is over.
‘Thank you.’ I am overcome with gratitude and a sense of wonder. He nods and I leave his office.
As I drive off, I can’t help but think that in life we seek connection with other people. Sometimes it’s in lifetime relationships with family and friends. Other times, it’s in the momentary but meaningful connections we make with others. The latter are sometimes so profound because they require so little of us, but we get so much in return when we least expect it.